Sparely written and psychologically astute, as always, from an author who apparently agrees with Herz that “maturity rarely...



Another intelligent, emotionally wounded protagonist muses on a life consumed by others’ expectations in Brookner’s 21st novel (after The Bay of Angels, 2001, etc.).

“Making things better seemed to have been assigned to him as his life’s work,” thinks Julius Herz, who at 73 has outlived both his mentally ill older brother and the parents who extinguished Herz’s youth and his marriage with their matter-of-fact assumption that he existed to meet their needs. He’s financially secure, thanks to a generous settlement from the owner of the London shop in which he and his father dully labored after fleeing the Nazis, and he has a comfortable flat. But his days are long and lonely, his listless routine of “a newspaper and the supermarket in the morning, and in the afternoon a bookshop or gallery” broken only by an occasional lunch with his ex-wife or dinner with his solicitor, Bernard Simmonds, “during which he would remain on guard against his own indiscretions, while allowing Simmonds full license to indulge his own. That too was what was expected of him.” All this will be familiar anomic territory to Brookner readers, as will Julius’s lifelong love for his selfish, spoiled cousin Fanny, whom he helplessly adored when they were kids in Berlin, then sought out in Switzerland to propose marriage after his divorce and her first husband’s death. Though the proposal was rejected with calm brutality, Fanny reenters Herz’s life 30 years later, blithely counting on Julius’s fidelity when she’s nearly destitute after Husband Number Two’s demise. Will Julius upend his comfortable, empty life to fulfill once again someone else’s agenda? A man who takes an apartment on the calculation that “with a bit of luck he would be dead before the lease ran out” isn’t the most likely candidate for a happy ending.

Sparely written and psychologically astute, as always, from an author who apparently agrees with Herz that “maturity rarely brought cheering insights.”

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50888-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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